- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

CLEARWATER, Fla. | The Coast Guard called off the search Tuesday for two NFL players and a third man lost at sea off the Florida coast after their boat capsized during a fishing trip.

Officials said the search would end at sundown, with Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper; free agent defensive lineman Corey Smith, who played with the Detroit Lions last season; and former South Florida player William Bleakley still missing in the rough, chilly seas.

“We’re extremely confident that if there are any survivors on the surface of the water that we would have found them,” said Coast Guard Capt. Timothy Close, who added that searchers scoured the equivalent of 24,000 square miles over more than 60 hours.

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Hopes were raised Monday when crews found a fourth man who was aboard, 24-year-old former South Florida player Nick Schuyler, who managed to stay with the boat after it overturned Saturday evening.

William Bleakley’s father said he felt comfortable with the Coast Guard’s decision and that his expectations lowered after only one survivor was found.

“I think they did everything that they could,” Robert Bleakley said of the Coast Guard. “I think they were not to be found.”

Prospects for survival became more grim throughout the day, with Cooper’s father saying the Coast Guard told him privately officials were losing hope because so much time had passed and hypothermia risks were high. Coast Guard officials said publicly they were still hopeful.

“I think the families understood that we put in a tremendous effort,” Close said. “Any search and rescue case we have to stop is disappointing.”

Family and friends embraced and sobbed outside the Coast Guard station shortly before the announcement. They left without talking with reporters.

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